Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Where to start?... with the chickens, I guess!!

I did a ton of research before deciding which breed of chickens to get. I had a few prerequisites- they had to be heritage breed, they had to be dual purpose, and I would prefer it if they were on the endangered or critial list according to Rare Breeds Canada. I ended up choosing Dorkings, partly because they are a beautiful bird, dual purpose, they can raise their own young, they have an amazing history (dating back at least 500 years) and the clincher was that they were friendlier and more docile than most breeds. I thought that was a great thing for a first-time chicken raiser! (They still freak me out, though!) Anyway, I recieved my first 18 birds just after I moved in last Sept. I kept them in my office at first with a brooder light. They outgrew their first rubbermaid home in a matter of days. So, I fashioned them a little bit bigger cage with chicken wire. Holy, moly, do those little birds smell in the house! It wasn't long before I was desperate to get them out of the house. First, I had to make them a coop, so the dogs wouldn't get in and eat them! I scrounged as much free materials as I could (remember, I was unemployed, and frugal was the word of the day!) and turned the little shack on the property into a chicken house. I made a double-dutch door with scraps of plywood, but had to purchase some hinges for it. Even though it was getting cold, and the little birds weren't fully feathered yet, they were going OUTSIDE, even if it killed them. Seriously, the smell..... Ugh!

Needless to say, they survived! Success! While the birds were in their little shack, keeping warm, I spent days and days putting in scrounged up fence-posts for a run, and had was even able to scrounge up some wire for the fencing. The birds ended up with a run that is about 900 sq ft. I think I managed to do most of that first coop for about $50 or so.

The birds were growing like crazy. The roosters were starting to fight over the girls. I discovered I had 7 pullets (females) and 11 roosters. So, I got busy making a second coop out of the old little building the previous owners kept pot-bellied pigs in. I was able to scrounge a few more fence posts, but had to resort to purchasing 2 rolls of stucco wire, and a few more fence posts for this coop. This one was expensive... ended up costing me a bit over $200. You would think wire would be cheaper!! As soon as it was up, 10 of the 11 males got moved into it. I kept one male, the biggest one, to service the girls. What a lucky boy! I've named him Bully, because he's always bullying the girls and getting his way with them.

22 weeks after I got the chickens, the 10 males went into the freezer. No, I didn't butcher them myself... I got a local butcher to do them. Not ready for that. Not sure I ever will be.

The hens started laying in Feb/March. The eggs are a white/cream colour, and a medium size. I have really learned to rely on always having fresh eggs around. I eat them for breakfast, use them for baking, and put them into my home-made deer control with garlic to spray on my veggie garden. LOVE having fresh eggs all the time! I have also been selling them for $3 a doz- I won't get rich, but the birds are now paying for their own feed. What could be better than that?!

About a month ago, I invested in a used incubator. My hens were refusing to go broody, and I wanted a larger flock. I need more eggs to sell, I never have enough, and I want some more roasters to go into the freezer for the winter. I tried incubating 24 eggs. Nothing. After 21 days, no babies were born. My sister came to visit, and was braver than I, and broke one open. Turns out, the eggs weren't even fertile. So, either my Bully is shooting blanks, or I am doing something wrong. Just don't know what yet.

So, I bit the bullet, and bought 30 more poults about 2 weeks ago. They are all healthy and thriving. The amazing thing about heritage breeds is the low death rate. When you get hybrid birds, you can always expect you will lose about 10-15% of them in the first few days of their lives. My heritage birds? Out of a total of 48 birds, I have lost none. I admit that I am quite proud of this fact!

Wouldn't you know it... a few days after getting the new hatch of birds, one of my hens goes broody. I let her brood for 5 or 6 days. Then, I start thinking... maybe this hen knows something I don't? So, I took her eggs just yesterday, and put them into the incubator. Maybe something new will happen... you never know. There are 16 eggs in there right now. Will keep you updated! Keep your fingers crossed....

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Flooded Driveway

Flooded Driveway
Too much RAIN!